Jesse and Sandi Jackson

Brian Casella/Chicago Tribune

Many journalists were amused—delighted, in fact—to discover just as the feds released a list of disgraced congressman Jesse Jackson Jr.’s ridiculous, embarrassing purchases, that he and his famous father had written a book of financial advice aimed at ordinary people.

In late 1999, a division of Random House published It’s About the Money! It carried the bylines and smiling photos of Jesse Louis Jackson, Jr. and his father, the Rev. Jesse Louis Jackson, Sr. Back then the Jacksons had something to smile about. There was no ceiling on the ambitions of the son. This was years before his reputation was ruined when he pled guilty to looting from his campaign fund; years before ugly allegations of attempting to buy for $1.5 million Barack Obama’s senate seat; years before a House ethics committee investigation; years before reports of a relationship with a DC lounge hostess.

(On the book jacket, in small, dull-hued-type, is the credit "with Mary Gotchall." Gotschall, 55, a Washington-based consultant and business journalist, may have done the actual writing and research. I can’t be certain because my attempts to reach her on Tuesday to ask that question were unsuccessful.)

“Buy your clothes and household items from secondhand stores,” the authors advised. “No one has to know that your Donna Karan dress had a previous owner.” 

Then, 13 years later, out rolled the details of some 3,100 Jackson transactions over seven years—purchases made with campaign contributions, some from his less-than-flush constituents in the 2nd District: the $43,350 gold-plated Rolex; four mink capes and parkas bought in a single day; the mounted $7,058 stuffed elk heads, the Michael Jackson, Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcom X,  Bruce Lee, and Jimi Hendrix memorabilia; $5000 for a football signed by American presidents; $17,000 spent at tobacco stores; $61,000 on restaurants and lounges and night clubs.

On July 1 both Jesse and his wife, former Chicago alderman. Sandi Jackson, will be sentenced in a federal court in D.C. where, for all intents and purposes, they lived most of the time in a lovely DuPont Circle row house furnished and renovated with money Jesse stole from his campaign fund. He pleaded guilty to misusing for personal purposes $750,000 in campaign funds and then disguising the often extravagant expenditures so they appeared to be routine campaign expenses. The former congressman faces up to five years in prison. The former alderman, who pleaded guilty to one count of tax fraud (filing false joint federal tax returns), faces two years.    

Now out of date to be sure—see chapter on “Using the Internet”—the book is packed with well-organized, accessible, detail-laden advice for average people who need to learn the basics about everything from applying for a mortgage, to understanding the stock market, to buying life insurance, to establishing a budget to “manage your household finances.”

But the Jacksons, and especially Junior, who is a graduate of the fanciest of fancy DC schools—St. Albans (think Al Gore and the like)—and holds an MA from the Chicago Theological Seminary and a J.D. from the University of Illinois, is one of the privileged. The man graduated from one of Illinois’ top law schools. He knows this stuff; he just chose to live by a special set of rules.

It’s About The Money! offers advice on the importance of saving (like the squirrel stashing acorns  for the winter, “we must save and invest for the future”), of limiting credit charges, and paying off charges every month. Case studies of ordinary folks who committed the “sin” of “living above [their] means” wasted their money on fancy clothes they didn’t need and ended up spending thousands of dollars on 21 percent credit card interest charges are sprinkled throughout. 

Jesse Jr. also used credit cards, but he never had to worry about usurious interest rates. That’s because he used cards issued to his campaign on which he made personal purchases, ranging from household supplies to luxuries, and then directed staff to use campaign fund monies to pay the bills.

The people whose lives the Jacksons and Gotschall deconstruct are mostly wage earners who experience rude, painful wake-up calls. “Chiffon Jones” (a psuedonynm), for example, lives on the South Side and maxes out several credit cards to buy clothes and jewelry she’ll never live long enough to wear, and hides her excesses from her husband. She recognizes that she is a “shopaholic” and that she is “liv[ing] for American Express.” She seeks therapy from James T. Meeks, pastor of Salem Baptist Church of Chicago, which, as the authors note, is the junior Jackson’s church. (A call to the Rev. Meeks to ask if the younger Jackson sought pastoral counseling for his own money woes was not answered by post time.)

Or, as an example of someone who never loses his way: Alex Bambara, a West African immigrant, one of 9 siblings who arrived in New York with $150 and worked at a DC restaurant until 3am mopping floors for $4 an hour. Bambara saved $80 a month, learned to be an expert cook and baker, married an American woman, became a citizen, had two children, bought a house in Alexandria, Virginia,  and now bakes 30 varieties of bread and delivers them daily to his restaurant and coffee house customers who clamor four his creations.

Their lives are nothing like Junior’s. As soon as he graduated from law school in 1993, not bothering to sit for the bar exam and so not officially a lawyer,  he took a job as national field director of his father’s National Rainbow Coalition. Two years later, in 1995, he took his seat in  Congress—skipping the usual slog through the state legislature—mostly on the strength of Daddy’s name.

The chapter “Dealing with Major Life Events” covers such issues as “paying for your child’s college education,” “taxes,” and “caring for elderly relatives.” There’s no advice on preparing one’s children for their father, and possibly their mother, leaving home to go to prison.   

In the final chapter the Jacksons write, “Teaching our young people sound financial management skills begins at home.” The two Jackson children, including son Jesse Louis III, might have learned lessons from their parents, but probably not that one.